Inequality is on the rise throughout the developed world and there’s no better example of this increase than in the USA. The concept of the “American Dream” has led to an pervasive idea that anybody can become wealthy if they work hard, this concept is damaging because it ignores the plight of most individuals while worshipping success of the few. As a result, the discussion around poverty degrades to moral issues instead of addressing the systemic and institutional issues that perpetuate poverty.
At the Guardian, Maia Szalavitz, writes that if we’re going to make to improve equality in the developed world we need to change the way we think – and we can!
“We tend to see the world through our own experiences,” explains Stephen Pimpare, lecturer in American Politics at the University of New Hampshire and author of the forthcoming Ghettos, Tramps, and Welfare Queens: Down and Out on the Silver Screen. “We often think it is structure or circumstance that constrains our choices, but it’s the behavior of others that alters theirs.”
In other words, other poor people are poor because they make bad choices – but if I’m poor, it’s because of an unfair system. As a result of this phenomenon, Pimpare says, poor people tend to be hardest on each other. He gives the example of a large literature in anthropology and sociology about women on welfare published since the 1980s. “It finds over and over again that some of nastiest things you ever hear about women on welfare come out of the mouths of women on welfare.”
For some reason there are stereotypes out there that imply that if you’re not part of the middle class then you are a jerk. Well, it looks like that maybe half true. New research has come out that started with the question why statistically do poorer people give a higher portion of their income to charity compared to the rich has now concluded with the idea that rich people are not as empathetic as the poor.
It would be nice if people who were better off gave more of their income to charities and to other worthy causes. I hope this inspires all of you to give.
Michael W Kraus, of the University of California, San Francisco, is one of a number of social psychologists who have recently been busy demonstrating that lower socioeconomic status (SES) is intricately linked to all sorts of prosocial behaviours. Everything else equal, the less wealth, education and employment status we have, the more charitable, generous, trusting and helpful we appear to become. In interactions with strangers, poorer people are more likely to use polite, attentive, respectful gestures. Most recently, in a paper just published in the prestigious journal Psychological Science, Kraus et al report that lower SES subjects show significantly greater empathy than their richer, better educated counterparts. He argues that this tendency to empathise may at least partly explain the other observations of prosocial behaviour.
Here’s an informative short video on energy entrepreneurs in a poor part of southern Mexico the provide sustainable electricity to locals. The generators are built locally and are designed to allow almost anyone build a generator. This is really good to see happening.
Cities that go green not only help the environment, but they also help alleviate poverty. By investing in green programs they put money into an industry that is growing and needs labour. As a result, many environmentalists (myself included) are arguing for programs that go beyond hybrid cars and switching light bulbs to programs that promote systemic change. Building green cities is a change that can last more than a lifetime.
The Bronx group is at the forefront of a movement to put low-income and low-skilled workers in “green collar” jobs: manual work in fields that help the environment.
Cities trying to strengthen the local economy and go green see the solution in green-collar jobs. Jobs in the $341-billion-a-year green industry have the potential to move people out of poverty, says Trenton, N.J., Mayor Douglas Palmer.
Advocates of green-collar job programs say concerns about the environment have been focused on hybrid cars, polar bears and the melting ice cap. They want more attention on improving conditions in poor communities, which studies show bear the brunt of environmental hazards because they have more power plants, industrial warehouses and waste facilities.
“We want to use the green-collar movement to move people out of poverty,” says Majora Carter, head of Sustainable South Bronx. “Little green fairies do not come out of the sky and install solar panels. Someone has to do the work.”
Her group, which is funded through private grants, has helped almost 90% of its graduates find jobs working for the city parks department, local cemeteries and environmental groups, such as the Central Park Conservancy and the Bronx River Alliance.